York County Council voted Monday night to pay back two years of tax revenue, after a Fort Mill man found he paid too much for a decade.
“This is, in part, the right thing to do,” said Councilman William “Bump” Roddey. “It won’t make this gentleman whole and give him back (the full amount), but it says this body recognizes the situation and is willing to do what we can do.”
Council voted 5-2 to refund the money, with Michael Johnson and Chad Williams voting against.
Businesses, rentals and secondary homes in South Carolina are all charged a 6 percent tax rate. However, a homeowner may apply for a reduction to 4 percent for a primary residence. The application process typically is presented at property closing or by mail from the county tax assessor, or both. According to state law, a homeowner must apply for the rate reduction to get it.
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County records show an application for the lower rate was sent to Morgan Glenn in 2007, when he bought his Landsdowne Court property. However, Glenn said he wasn’t aware he was paying the higher rate until February, when he considered selling his home.
“When I bought my home, they did not present me with an application to apply for primary residence,” Glenn said. “I guess they automatically assumed it’s a secondary home. But I’ve never been so blessed as to have a secondary home that cost $300,000.”
With county, school district and other taxes dating back to when he bought his home, Glenn paid about $36,000 more than he would have at the 4 percent rate.
State law allows a county assessor in such cases to repay the difference for two years. Anything beyond that takes the county council approval.
Glenn said he saw The Herald’s reports of a similar case last year when a Rock Hill woman overpaid $5,800 in taxes at the 6 percent rate for a decade. Council approved refunding her two additional years of the difference between the rates. She received $520, on top of the two years allowed without Council’s approval.
Council’s decision Monday night to refund two more years for Glenn will cost the county $738.28. That number is $374.10 for 2014 and $409.18 for 2015. Glenn already had been refunded the difference for 2016 and 2017.
County finance leaders, including the assessor’s office, have stated they don’t support paying back the difference beyond two years when homeowners fail to apply for the lower rate.
Pierre Langevin of Fort Mill and chair of the county’s board of assessment appeals asked Council not to refund the money because the tax assessor did nothing wrong.
“The county tax assessor was correct in its decision and handling of this case,” Langevin said. “There has been at least a dozen similar cases brought to our attention. And in each one of them, the board has found the tax assessors acted properly.”
Johnson has expressed concerns the recent decisions set a precedent for more taxpayers to ask for refunds.
Langevin echoed Johnson’s sentiments on Monday, saying the law was written “with the express purpose of limiting the liability of the county.”
“To go in the direction that you are considering will not only expose the county to further, similar requests, but will open the door for anyone with a belief they have been overcharged to ask for a refund,” Langevin said before the vote. “Thus exposing yourself to potential discrimination if you give to one but not to the other.”
Both refund cases have been “widely publicized,” he said.
“There will be others, I am sure,” Langevin said. “To continue in that direction is a call for all past, similar cases to knock at your door for a reversal.”
Glenn said now that applications are given to buyers at closing, there shouldn’t be more cases.
“This shouldn’t happen to anyone else, but I would challenge the council members that even if it did, God forbid if they show you documentation and you see that they overpaid, open the doors for everyone and give them their money back,” he said. “We’re not asking you to give something that you don’t deserve. But if somebody overpaid, they should be reimbursed.”
Glenn could be the last to get money back.
Chairman Britt Blackwell said he doesn’t see himself voting to give a refund again. While he understands mistakes happen, the county is not liable in such cases.
“People do fall through the cracks,” he said.
Still, others may come looking for money. On Tuesday, the day after Council cast its vote in Glenn’s case, a property owner who hasn’t lived in the county requested reimbursement dating back a decade for a home she owned. Someone who doesn’t live in a home wouldn’t be eligible for the lower rate, but some at the county level fear the Ramey and Glenn cases will spawn others.
Councilwoman Christi Cox said each case should be determined on its own merit.
“The idea that this is somehow going to cause some precedent-setting issue is completely wrong, from a legal perspective,” she said.
Councilwoman Allison Love said the county is talking about giving Glenn “a few hundred dollars.”
“I’m happy to vote to give back any individual in this situation their money,” Love said.
Lancaster and Chester counties say it’s common for homeowners to request to be repaid the two years of overpaid taxes allowed by state law, but neither county has had requests for more. The 2007 policy requiring homeowners to apply for the lower rate has been contentious in York County.
“The last time the assessor agreed to do this, this council ridiculed him and he resigned over it,” Roddey said. “That was part of the wrong that happened the last time we heard this case. That assessor stood here and said he agreed with giving a refund, and this council ridiculed him to the point that he resigned from York County.”